Most people had never heard of Citizenship by Investment (CBI) until recently. Ordinarily, people obtain a country’s citizenship by:
What most people are not aware of is that most nationalities’ laws also have clauses that provide naturalization from an exceptional contribution to the country. These contributions can take many forms: artistic, scientific, athletic, economic, etc. Think about a foreign football player becoming naturalized so he can play for the national team. Many of these laws were also put in place after WWII to naturalize foreigners that fought for the country during the war or during the liberation. Now, what we called naturalization by merit or exceptional contribution has been extended to include economic contributions in certain cases. Many countries have these clauses in their law but most of them have no regulations guiding them. Those that have created regulations for naturalization by merit or exceptional contribution take the name of citizenship by investment or economic citizenship.
Ordinary naturalization is the process of obtaining citizenship after having spent a certain number of years in the country. You are usually asked to have been physically present for X amount of years, be a permanent resident, speak the language, and pass a civil integration test. It’s what pretty much every immigrant has to go through to become naturalized. Of course, there are also common requirements such as not being a security risk and being able to financially support yourself.
In those countries, a foreigner who has made a significant contribution to the economy can have many of the conditions imposed on ordinary naturalization waived, meaning you might not need to have resided a few years in the country or speak the language. The main difference rests in the process; it’s not straightforward. You will need to make your investment, not necessarily knowing if it’s enough, and you will have to start exceptional proceedings towards the government for them to hear your request. The process itself can take years and no precise guidelines have been established. You will usually come to proceedings in front of a judge or committee to hear your request. That committee might meet only once a year. The minister or president might have to sign off on the request for it to become valid. Some European countries do provide naturalization for economic contributions without having a citizenship by investment program in place, such as Austria or Poland. But they remain a gamble in comparison to those with CBIs. There are also countries like Romania that provide fast-track naturalization to foreigners that have invested a certain amount of capital in the country. These processes usually enable the applicants to reduce by a couple of years the number of years of residence required to apply.
There are a handful of countries in the world that today offer a citizenship by investment program or economic citizenship. These programs have precise guidelines and investment requirements. In most cases they don’t require the applicant to have resided in the country before and to know the language. They can offer a few investment options such as cash donation, real estate investment, or business investments. Most countries operating such programs are small nations that suffer from a high level of debt. These programs help them balance their budget and attract foreign capital. In the European Union, there are 3 CBIs that are currently available to investors: Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta.. These programs, in contrast to the CBIs in the Caribbean, are fast-track naturalization schemes. They require the applicant to hold a residence permit for 1 year (6 months for Cyprus) in order to qualify for the CBI. While the applicant holds the permit (without the need to be physically present), the naturalization process is on its way. Countries that offer citizenship by investment programs allow dual citizenship, which might not be the case for other countries. These processes are complex and always require an intermediary in the form of an accredited agent.